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Canals, Tunnels, Bridges and Aqueducts: The Essence of Engineering

Large-scale civils projects, vital to the development of the world’s trade and commerce, have called forth astonishing ingenuity and dogged determination from engineers, in times both ancient and modern

Pont du Gard, Nîmes, France

Built in the first century AD, the Pont du Gard aqueduct at Nîmes in southern France carried 200 million litres of water a day for 800 years. At 49m high, it is the tallest aqueduct bridge the Romans built. Protruding blocks of stone were integrated to help support the complex scaffold used during construction. Stones were lifted using block and tackle and human treadmills. The walls of the conduit were lined with dressed stone and the floor was concrete. It is a World Heritage Site and one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

Hugh Petter & Fiona Scott of
ADAM Architecture & Gort Scott Architects (Respectively)

The Falkirk Wheel

The first and only rotating boat lift of its kind, the Falkirk Wheel was carried to completion by RMJM in 2002. It is an astonishingly simple solution to acomplex task, the lifting and lowering of 600 tonnes of boat and water, while conserving energy. Only 22.5kW of power is consumed in each rotation -about eight boiled kettles.Simple physics come into force, with each boat carried displacing its own weight in water exactly, balancing the two water-filled caissons. The Falkirk Wheel is a solution that embodies the engineering brief in a highly economic, highly innovative and inspiring way, creating a simple beauty that is the true essence of engineering.

Sean James Kitchen

The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is undoubtedly an engineering marvel. The first attempt was abandoned in 1880 at the cost of 22,000 human lives. The US took 10 years to construct the current canal, which claimed a further 5,600 lives before being completed in 1914. Construction involved machinery the likes or scale of which had never been seen before. Built in the most in hospitable of environments, it was finished two years ahead of schedule. The canal is 77km long and comprises two man-made lakes and six locks, which raise vessels more than 26m. Each lock is 33.5m wide and 320m long, with steel gates over 2m thick, 19.5m wide and 20m in height. The dock walls are 15m thick at their base and 4m thick at the top. Vessels are specifically constructed to fit within the the locks.

Nigel Clark
Hilson Moran

The Channel Tunnel

There are many amazing features of the Channel Tunnel that make it the world’s greatest feat of engineering, in terms of both its technological achievements and its success as a new transport link. I have always been in awe of how quickly we can travel significant distances nowadays so it is particularly impressive that, because of the Chunnel, one can now get up in the morning, hop on a 200mph train to Paris for a meeting, and be home in time for tea. Also, it is a wonderful concept on its own that I can actually drive a car onto a train (heavily laden with wine, croissants and smelly cheese), and be back in Blighty in 35 minutes. It is of course admirable that this was a collaborative effort between two countries, which worked together on a £5billion project excavating unfathomable quantities of spoil using enormous machinery to create the world’s longest undersea tunnel, formed from the world’s strongest concrete. But the most remarkable aspect for me is that, after 170 million man hours of tunnelling towards each other 37 km under the sea, the British and French teams were able to make their ends join up - amazing.

Nick Jones
Hilson Moran

The Maidenhead Railway Bridge

The essence of bridge engineering is encapsulated in the Maidenhead Railway Bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Completed in 1838, engineering and aesthetics are perfectly resolved in the elegant twin-arch viaduct. The graceful curves were wonderfully captured in Rain, Steam and Speed, by JMW Turner in 1844.

Martin Knight
Knight Architects

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